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Police officers, doughnuts and the attorney general

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Updated: July 6, 2012 10:44AM

Something about charity inspires people to do odd things — walk long distances, shave their heads, perch above circus dunk tanks. I myself once leapt into 33-degree Lake Michigan for the Special Olympics.

When I spied — in a Dunkin’ Donuts press release — that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan would be sitting on the roof of a doughnut shop in Glenview Friday morning, also for Special Olympics, I wanted to be there, if only to razz her. I viewed sitting on a roof as something a high school principal does after losing a bet with his senior class. The idea, I thought, was to hold a person up to gentle public mockery, a mild version of sitting in stocks in colonial times.

But that wasn’t how it turned out.

A trio of Glenview police officers were already up there, Sgt. Jim DeGroot, Deputy Chief Phil Perlini and the rookie, Officer Dan Domke, 25. They were not standing vigil, not uncomfortable, not being heckled, but rather having fun, shouting and laughing and urging passersby to contribute money.

“I love it,” said DeGroot. “We have a riot doing it and it’s a great cause.”

“Cops and doughnuts” added Perlini, broaching a subject I didn’t dare raise. “It’s all good. We know people connect cops and doughnuts. It’s all fine. We love doughnuts. It’s in our genes. It’s a great cause. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s nice Lisa Madigan is coming out here. We’ve never had an actual celebrity out here.”

Madigan showed up about 8:15 a.m.

“This can be a little intimidating,” she laughed, referring to the two parked police cars, their lightbars flashing. “It’s like there’s a crime going on here. I would drive by the Dunkin’ Donuts with all the police cars.”

She climbed a ladder and took her place next to the cops on the cold and windy roof, 20 feet above the street.

“Hi, how are you!” she shouted down at patrons walking in far below. “We’re up here raising money for Special Olympics! So we hope, after you get your doughnut, you’ll make a contribution!”

This is the 10th year Dunkin’ Donuts has worked with police around Illinois to hold his event. Last year it raised $215,000 for Special Olympics, which runs athletic competitions for people with disabilities. This year, with 130 stores participating, they expect to raise more.

Madigan said that she loves to help the Special Olympics.

“It is one of the most meaningful things I do.” she said, straddling the ledge. “We can help these kids have terrific opportunities.”

And the rooftop?

“It’s better than sitting in the office,” she said, inviting me to sit next to her, which I did, though less boldly — she swung both legs over. I followed suit, edging my legs over gingerly. I marveled she was leaning forward, waving.

“I’m a woman,” she explained. “Most of my weight is already back there.”

I wondered about the connection between stunts and charity. Why is that?

“People give money because they want recognition, right?” she said. “You want your name on a brick. People give money because they want the Cubs tickets or the auction prize. Or people will give money to their friends because their friends will jump in the lake when it’s freezing, or their friends will shave all their hair off, or law enforcement will sit on top of a roof. There’s a novelty to it.”

The novelty catches their attention and loosens their purse strings. But isn’t it a little embarrassing, I asked, to be shouting from a rooftop? “You’re getting attention,” she said. “You gotta get attention.”

Madigan wasn’t interested in discussing theory; she had a job to do. “Good morning!” she yelled. “We’re raising money for Special Olympics! I’m your attorney general! Neil Steinberg from the Sun-Times and all of Glenview’s finest!” I felt I should chime in something at that point. “We encourage you to eat doughnuts and give money to the Special Olympics!” I cried out, awkwardly.

“Morning!” she shouted, easily, naturally, leaning forward further, talking to customers below. “We’re raising money for Special Olympics!”

After Madigan finally came off the roof, she stood by the drive-through with a metal bucket, hitting up patrons, one by one. Then she went back inside, counted her money — $93 — then came back outside to raise another $7.

“I should probably go to work,” she said, turning to a customer. “You give me a dollar and I get to go to work. It’ll be my last dollar.”

“I made it to $100,” she enthused. There were no TV cameras, no other reporters. She proceeded to talk to patrons about their problems and legal woes. She picked up doughnuts for her staff, and even sympathized with those confronted by a squad of cops requesting charity.

“What are they going to do?” she joked. “It’s the police, it’s so unfair.”

I hadn’t been inside a Dunkin’ Donuts for years — we’re caught up in the pricey artisanal doughnut craze downtown. I ordered some to go, expecting to find them lacking. In the car, I tried a simple cake doughnut. It was very good, light and tasty, only 89 cents and no long line. Of course, I had to sit on a rooftop first, but that isn’t mandatory.

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